Margherita, pizza of Queens.
eepening the knowledge of Margherita pizza and of its history, it’s easy to discover many interesting curiosities. Some of them bind this food speciality to two queens: Maria Carolina of Austria, the elder sister of the famous Marie Antoinette, and Margherita of Savoy. Many think that it takes its name from the latter: not surprisingly it’s considered the “queen” of pizzas.
The official story …
aples, June 1889: the cook Raffaele Esposito was commissioned to make some pizzas for King Umberto I of Savoy and Queen Margherita visiting the city. They enjoyed one in particular: it was seasoned with tomato, mozzarella cheese and basil. When they asked for the name of this delicacy, Raffaele had no doubts: the great love for his Queen and a certain amount of cunning made him say “Margherita!”. The most famous Neapolitan pizza was born. It seems that there is an official document certifying what happened, signed by Camillo Galli, Royal House Representative.
… a different story.
ven if this story is the most widely known, some suggest it might not be true, at least not completely. As it often happens, there are no reliable information. However, it is worth to pay attention to some assumptions that, if proved valid, would change the birth date of Margherita pizza.
According to some historians, this pizza does not derive its name from the famous Italian queen, but from a particular layout of the mozzarella cheese on the dough, that makes it look like a daisy flower, whose Italian translation is, in fact, “margherita”.
The same historians claim that the first queen to enjoy it was not Margherita of Savoy but, nearly a century before, Maria Carolina of Austria, wife of Ferdinand of Bourbon, King of Naples. She tasted it for the first time during a party organized by her husband at the Capodimonte Royal Palace.
Studying the origins of food is like traveling in time: quite often it’s possible to meet some of the greatest personalities of the past, finding out what they ate. These information are much more than simple curiosities, since they can “humanize” this people, bringing them closer to us.
Margherita: the “true Neapolitan pizza”.
n February 2010, the European Union assigned the STG (Specialità Tradizionale Garantita) label to Neapolitan pizza. This label certifies the compliance with a policy document specifying, for example, the origin of its ingredients and the method of preparation.
Here follow some of the most important part of the policy document:
The “true Neapolitan pizza” is defined as:
“Food preparation, consisting in a base of dough, seasoned and baked in a wood oven”
The set of rules specifies, for example:
The method to make the dough (including its leavening).
The method to shape the dough (“formatura”). This must be performed by hand, it’s not possible to use a rolling pin or any other mechanical tool.
The cooking procedure. This includes an explanation of how a pizzaiolo should use the paddle to turn the pizza in the oven.
The result consists in:
A yeasted flatbread, round shaped, with a diameter non greater than 35 centimeters and a puffed up crust.
According to the policy document, these are the only ingredients that may be used:
Ingredients for the dough:
Sea salt or table salt;
Ingredients for the seasoning:
Peeled tomatoes and/or fresh “pomodorini”;
Extra virgin olive oil;
Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP;
Given these ingredients, just two types of pizza can be considered “true Neapolitan pizzas”:
The Margherita: seasoned with tomato, mozzarella cheese, extra virgin olive oil and basil;
The Marinara: seasoned with tomato, garlic, oil and oregano;
The Bourbons love pizza.
ven if it’s difficult to determine precisely the true origins of the Margherita, it’s important to remember that in Naples, well before the Savoy, another great royal family, the Bourbons, loved pizza very much. King Ferdinand of Bourbon had such a passion for it, to order the construction of a pizza oven at the Capodimonte Royal Palace.
The famous Neapolitan writer Salvatore Di Giacomo tells us about a party during which the Queen, Maria Carolina of Austria, together with her court ladies, ate some pizzas cooked right in the King’s oven (*1):
“Being Ferdinand on a holiday in Capodimonte … The oven was built in the woods surrounding the Palace … The pizzas were ready right after midnight: the Queen arrived a few minutes later, with four or five court ladies. Some others arrived: Don Domenico counted twenty of them.
The Queen enjoyed very much the pizzas, her ladies too: they all looked so happy. The servants poured white wine and offered oranges. The dances at the Palace started again and this vision faded.” (S. Di Giacomo)
*1: Visiting the Capodimonte Royal Palace in Naples, it’s still possible to see this wood oven.
The Queens of pizza: Margherita of Savoy.
argherita Maria Teresa Giovanna of Savoy was born in Turin in 1851, daughter of Ferdinand of Savoy and Elisabeth of Saxony. During her childhood she received a strong Catholic education, this probably explains her great religiosity and conservative political attitude.
In 1868 she married Prince Umberto. When he was crowned, she became the first Queen of Italy (the previous one, married with Vittorio Emanuele II, died before the unification of the country). During the period between 1869 and 1870, the royal couple lived in Naples, most probably to improve the relations with the local people, still very attached to the previous ruling dynasty, the Bourbons. In this city Margherita gave birth to her first and only child.
In 1871, the Royal Family moved to Rome. Great was the influence of the Queen on her husband’s decisions, even if, at least officially, her role was limited to organizing events.
Thanks to her regal aspect and great communication skills, Margherita was deeply loved by the people, despite her reactionary political views. After the death of the husband, killed by an anarchist, her son was crowned King as Vittorio Emanuele III and she became the Queen Mother. Fervent nationalist, she supported the advent of fascism, considered the only effective defense against the rise of the Bolsheviks, a huge menace to the monarchy.
She died in Bordighera in 1926: a lot of people attended her funeral.
The Queens of pizza: Maria Carolina of Austria.
aria Carolina of Austria was born in Vienna in 1752, daughter of Maria Theresa and elder sister of the future Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. She was just sixteen when she moved to Naples to marry King Ferdinand of Bourbon.
Carolina proved quite soon to be much smarter than her husband, unfit for his role, and became the de facto ruler of the realm. She was initially influenced by the ideals of Illuminism and guided the country as an “enlightened monarch”, renewing the economy and working with many of the most important intellectuals. She also approved several laws in favor of women.
Everything changed with the French Revolution, when Marie Antoinette was beheaded. Her progressive political inclination died together with her sister: she put to death many anti-monarchists and supporters of the Republic.
When Napoleon’s army invaded the Italian peninsula, she was forced to seek refuge in Sicily, under the protection of the British soldiers. At the end of the French domination, she could not go back to Naples: the same British authorities she was allied with, forced her to renounce to the throne and to move to Vienna, where she died years later at the age of 62.
HOW TO MAKE A MARGHERITA
t’s not so easy to make the true Margherita pizza. The ingredients have to be fresh and of great quality. The “pizzaiolo” has to be very good to work the dough and to follow the cooking. A particular type of wood oven is needed.
Here follows a video showing the procedure:
MOZZARELLA FOR THE MARGHERITA
he quality of mozzarella is very important in a Margherita pizza. Only a few specific types can be used to make the original one:
The Mozzarella STG;
The Fiordilatte DOP;
The Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP.
THE PIZZA OVEN
n Naples, a particular type of wood oven is used to cook pizzas. Its shape is very similar to that of an igloo.
The roof of the internal chamber, the so-called “volta”, is entirely coated with refractory material, so as not to disperse the heat. The same material is also used for the cooking surface (“piano di cottura”).
The oven has a small arc-shaped opening that can be closed with a metal door. The smoke produced by the combustion is vented outside through a chimney. In general, the fire burning inside is never put out.
THE MARGHERITA: A “FOOD PUZZLE”
he “Margherita” is, in a way, the result of an evolution lasted for centuries. A journey started with the preparation of very simple flat bread, continued with the invention of mozzarella cheese, and ended with the discovery of a new vegetable in the New World: the tomato.
All these ingredients are like pieces of a “food puzzle”, a puzzle completed in Naples with the making of the first pizza.
THE MOST EXPENSIVE PIZZAS
n May 2010 a programmer paid two pizzas using a brand new type of electronic currency, known as “bitcoin”. In time, its value has risen sharply. Nowadays, the amount he paid is worth 6 million dollars: 3 million for each pizza!
WHERE TO EAT A MARGHERITA
elow, a few links to the official websites of some of the best pizzerias in Naples.
Brandi: This pizzeria is known as the heir of the Margherita pizza tradition.
Da Michele: Only two types of pizza are served here: Margherita and Marinara.
Trianon: It’s in Naples Old Town. The classic “pizza verace” is served here since 1923.
THE RIGHT BEVERAGE
hat to drink with a Margherita pizza? A good choice is a beer, quite soft, medium warm, quite fresh and medium sparkling.
The softness balances the acid tendency of the tomato.
The alcohol balances the greasiness of the olive oil.
The acidity and the effervescence balance the sweet tendency of the dough.
All the images used in this page, with the exception of those marked with the “webfoodculture” logo, are released in public domain:
©:1 (*) – Margherita of Savoy, 1867, personal archive. (Wikipedia Link)
©:2 (*) – Erzherzogin Maria Karolina, 1765, Schönbrunn Palace. (Wikipedia Link)
©:3 (*) – Capodimonte Royal Palace, Giorgio Sommer (1834-1914) (Wikipedia Link)
©:4 (*) – Aurelio Fierro (Wikipedia Link)
©:5 (*) – Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, 1825 (Wikipedia Link)
©:6 (*) – Umberto I of Savoy, 1882 (Wikipedia Link)
©:7 (**) – Gold bars, by Agnico-Eagle (Wikipedia Link)
©:8 (*) – Maria Carolina of Austria, 1768, A.R.Mengs (Wikipedia Link)
©:9 (*) – Margherita of Savoy, Michele Gordigiani (Wikipedia Link)
(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.